State v. Watson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 792 S.E.2d 873 (Nov. 15, 2016)

In this drug case, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress drug evidence seized after a traffic stop where the officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. Officers received a tip from a confidential informant regarding “suspicious” packages that the defendant had received from a local UPS store. The informant was an employee of the UPS store who had been trained to detect narcotics; the informant had successfully notified the police about packages later found to contain illegal drugs and these tips were used to secure a number of felony drug convictions. With respect to the incident in question, the informant advised the police that a man, later identified as the defendant, had arrived at the UPS store in a truck and retrieved packages with a Utah a return address when in fact the packages had been sent from Arizona. After receiving this tip, the police arrived at the store, observed the defendant driving away, and initiated a traffic stop. During the stop they conducted a canine sniff, which led to the discovery of drugs inside the packages. Holding that the motion to suppress should have been granted, the court noted that there is nothing illegal about receiving a package with a return address which differs from the actual shipping address; in fact there are number of innocent explanations for why this could have occurred. Although innocent factors, when considered together may give rise to reasonable suspicion, the court noted that it was unable to find any case where reasonable suspicion was based solely on a suspicious return address. Here, the trial court made no finding that the informant or the police had any prior experience with the defendant; the trial court made no finding that the origination city was known as a drug source locale; and the trial court made no finding that the packages were sealed suspiciously, had a suspicious weight based on their size, had hand written labels, or had a suspicious odor.